Dozens of publishers, propagandists and producers (from across the anarchist and libertarian spectrum) will be in attendance, and there’ll be a full programme of meetings and films alongside the book-selling extravaganza.
Archive for the ‘Freedom (anarchist journal)’ Category
A retrospective piece, by the author of this blog, following the decision by the Freedom bookshop collective to cease print production of the anarchist newspaper (first published in 1886) and go ‘electronic only’.
Freedom occupies a special place in my anarchist heart, because it was the first anarchist newspaper that I ever picked up, in 1980 at the age of 17 […] As I read those first few issues back then, a lot of the paper’s frame of reference was pretty alien to me. The lyrics and wraparound essays of a Poison Girls or Crass twelve-inch record had more immediate anarchist resonance for me, than much of what appeared to be (from my teenage punk perspective) the frequently strange and arcane political and cultural preoccupations of Freedom‘s writers. […]
But there was no doubting my affinity with the sentiments and aspirations which I saw motivating the paper. As I also discovered Black Flag, Xtra! and Anarchy, the range of the expanding anarchist press seemed (alongside the stacks of punk fanzines piling up in my room) to be an even more encouraging sign. The anarchist movement appeared to be multiplying.
Rich Cross. 2014. ‘What Does Moving Online Mean For Freedom?‘, Freedom [online], 2 April, http://www.freedompress.org.uk/news/2014/04/02/what-does-moving-online-mean-for-freedom/
I’ve had a review of Steve Ignorant autobiography The Rest is Propaganda accepted by Freedom anarchist journal. I’ll updated here once it’s published – and, subsquently, will post the full-text of the review here. Already available are several of my other Freedom articles on the subject of Crass and anarcho-punk.
Crass, Love Songs (Hebden Bridge: Pomona, 2004). Pay no more than £9.99. http://www.pomonauk.com.
“In attempts to moderate us, they ask why we don’t write love songs.
What is it that we sing then?
Our love of life is total, everything we do is an expression of that.
Everything that we write is a love song.”
Crass, Yes Sir, I Will.
In 1982, as the rise of anarcho-punk continued apace, Crass — the band who served as the movement’s catalysts and collective figureheads — republished the collection of essays that had accompanied the their fourth studio LP Christ: The Album in book form, hoping to attract the attention of those “that might like the ideas but can’t stand the music.”
It was an acknowledgement of one of the many paradoxes which surrounded anarcho-punk: that the same music and counter-cultural practice which made anarcho-punk so compellingly attractive to many, also repelled many others who found the subculture’s output unlistenable and unfathomable. For those left puzzled or unmoved, its calls for “anarchy, peace and freedom” remained inaudible. And yet, if the collective behind Crass had chosen to rely on the written word alone, it’s probable that their message would have languished unread on the shelves of back-street radical bookshops.
Some of those determined to ‘congratulate’ Class War for supposedly reinvigorating and challenging the anarchist movement in the mid-1980s (with a politics no less romanticised or utopian – in its own way – than Crass’s own) remain reluctant to acknowledge anarcho-punk’s own vital contribution to British anarchism’s resurgence. For all its uncertainty over the dynamic connecting personal and collective ‘revolution’, and its contradictory class politics, anarcho-punk at least insisted that radical individual practice had to inform and underwrite social revolutionary ambition – a truism that many who went on to abandon ‘lifestyle-ism’ in pursuit of simpler picket-line politics had later to relearn.
However contested the legacy of Crass remains, there can be little doubt about the enormous significance of the movement that the band inspired — not least to a fractured and declining anarchist movement in danger of being eclipsed on all sides as the 1970s burnt themselves out. At a time when traditional anarchist events might attract only the battle-hardened few, and anarchist publications were struggling even to maintain their existing readerships, hundreds of thousands of fresh young militants were immersing themselves in the febrile political and musical culture of anarcho-punk. Certainly, a good few of those caught up in the excitement of the movement were more interested in the noise and the shocking imagery on display than the intricacies of the politics. And yet a significant proportion of those excited by the political possibilities which anarcho-punk demanded sought to make good on their new commitment to the anarchist cause. This belief encouraged the growth of a network of bands and fanzines committed to combatting the commercial corruption of punk, and to recapturing its true subversive potential.
The publication by Pomona of a comprehensive anthology of Crass lyrics, gives those who weren’t around at the time (as well as those who were but who couldn’t stand the racket) a chance to explore the contours of the band’s political and poetic vision. Those looking for strategic clarity or for bullet-point political platforms were always going to be disappointed by anarcho-punk’s manifestos, but for visceral and passionate denunciations of the alienation, exploitation and war-lust of world capitalism (and the fragility of the war-state in the event of our collective rejection of its authority), little anarchist writing of the time can come close.
In Love Songs, Crass’s usual corporate responsibility for the band’s output is suspended, and the authors of the individual song lyrics are revealed for the first time. This actually serves to prove that most members of the band did contribute to what was a genuinely inclusive writing process. For those who know the material, there are some interesting surprises: American poetess Annie Anxiety is revealed as the authoress of the stunning Shaved Women from 1979; while much of the most militant material from 1984, when the group’s residual pacifism was under acute strain, is shown to have been written by Pete Wright and Gee Sus.
In his introduction, drummer Penny Rimbaud combines a thoughtful and sometimes witty account of the band’s work, with an exploration of anarcho-punk’s reverberations in the present day, and a contemptuous dismissal of the anarchist pretensions of punk ‘celebrity’ Mr J Rotten. A preface by Pomona’s Mark Hodkinson also unsentimentally captures much of the sense of what it was like to be a young participant and observer caught up in the original anarcho-punk wave.
In 1983, Crass’s own frustration with the ‘inadequacy’ of their work saw the band record, and tour with, the first truly deconstructed punk concept album, Yes Sir, I Will. The political impact of this creative decision was decidedly uneven, and in retrospect it can be seen as heralding the start of the movement’s own endgame. For Crass, fervently “concerned with ideas, not rock and roll”, the music was only ever a delivery system — yet that medium sometimes obscured the message, and Crass came to feel trapped in a role that was alien to them. Crass’s hope – that punk rock might be moulded into a force strong enough to challenge the foundations of the state – might ultimately have been unrealisable, but the lyrics collated in Love Songs serve as a fitting testament to the vigour of anarcho-punk’s world-changing ambitions, their power undiminished by the passage of more than twenty years.
Review in Freedom 26 June 2004
Six original members of the anarchist punk band Crass, in collaboration with other artists, presented an evening of musical, spoken-word and video performance at the National Film Theatre (NFT) on Saturday 15th June — in celebration of the culture and politics of anarcho-punk.
For the uninitiated, the event was a visceral demonstration of the passion with which Crass always pursued their assault on the horrors of war, consumerism and the state. For those more aware of their work, it offered confirmation of a sense of commitment and self-belief undimmed in the years since Crass dissolved — and capable of fresh creativity and insight.
The majority of the films on offer in the NFT’s jubilee punk retrospective rehearsed familiar concerns with the musical dimension of the 1977 punk explosion, focusing on the usual suspects amongst the London and New York in-crowds — that ‘punk aristocracy’ so derided by Crass for its betrayal of the movement’s revolutionary aspirations.
Yet it was their attack on the complicity of so many of those original leaders in the recuperation of punk that saw Crass develop, between 1977 and 1984, into the organising catalyst for what became a vast international counter-cultural youth movement. The activists of that movement strove to realise the potential of punk ‘as it was always supposed to have been’ and energised the mass oppositional and anti-war movements of the day.
The collection of performances which made up Crass’s NFT show Killing Time included new poetry from Penny Rimbaud; ‘unplugged’ performances of original and classic material from Eve Libertine, Andy Palmer and Steve Ignorant; and readings by other artists.
These were combined with the screenings of films by Gee Vaucher and Mick Duffield — always integral to Crass’s live gigs, and stunning pieces of confrontational cinema in their own right. This culminated in the showing of a re-mixed and re-edited version of Yes Sir, I Will — a relentless excoriation of the Reagan-Thatcher alliance, written in the desperate aftermath of the Falklands tragedy, when the arrival of Cruise nuclear missiles in Europe was imminent. For some, a repellant and indecipherable cacophony; for others an urgent and compelling call to action — but, without question, the band’s most intense and uncompromising declaration of war on the war-state.
The relaxed discussion session which concluded the evening provided a striking counterpart to the intensity of the performances that had preceded it. Most contributors referred to the importance of Crass in introducing so many of those present to libertarian and revolutionary politics, even if — some twenty years on — assessments of the worth of the anarcho-punk movement were likely to be less breathless and more critical than they were in what felt like the life-or-death struggles of the 1980s.
With time running out, members of Crass retrieved their drinks ‘rider’ from the hospitality room to share with the audience — a genuine and entirely unselfconscious impulse of a kind familiar to many who had worked with the band in the past. But what emphasises the significance of Crass above all is not just that, in the absence of any real publicity, they can fill an auditorium at the NFT, but that, some eighteen years after the band last performed live, the reverberations of anarcho-punk remain palpable in the present.
Review from Freedom 29 June 2002
George Berger. 2006. The Story of Crass, (London: Omnibus Press) ISBN 1-84609-402-X. £14.95. Ian Glasper. 2006. The Day The Country Died: A History of Anarcho-Punk 1980-1984, (London: Cherry Red) ISBN 1-901447-7-07. £14.99.
Since the anarchist punk band Crass brought to an end the group’s cultural-political assault on the Thatcherite state in the summer of 1984, the complex history of the first-wave of British anarcho-punk has languished in a state of almost uninterrupted neglect. For seven intensive years before that cut-off date the rebellious flames of anarcho-punk burned bright, lighting-up a sub-culture that took the revolutionary protestations of punk rock and the idea of ‘doing-it-yourself’ (DIY) profoundly seriously.
In recent years, cash-savvy publishers have pumped out innumerable coffee-table books rehashing the history of commercial Pistols-authored punk (of alarmingly variable degrees of quality). Very few amongst them have made any effort to accurately represent the history of anarcho-punk: the one manifestation of the sub-culture genuinely convinced that punk should (and could) give life to the movement’s irresistibly subversive logic. The burying of the specifically anarchist strand of punk within the historiography of punk rock is not simply the outcome of a nefarious conspiracy amongst retired rock journalists – although that conspiracy does exist, as much fuelled by ignorance and arrogance as by malice. Mainstream eulogisers of punk always face great difficulty in trying to incorporate anarcho-punk’s searing critique of punk orthodoxy into their own reassuringly-familiar Bromley Contingent narratives.
But the ease with which such historical sleight of hand can be carried out is also a reflection of the fiercely independent (some would say separatist) sensibilities of the anarcho-punk movement itself, which viewed its continually disappointing commercial counterpart with bitter disdain. Anarcho-punk opted instead for an autonomous existence and a life apart – making it easier for both malevolent and for myopic historians to try to write it out of the record. Works such as Crass drummer Penny Rimbaud’s evocative (if esoteric) autobiography Shibboleth (published in 1998) have pushed hard to challenge the movement’s exclusion, but the balance of new publishing has continually reinforced its omission.
The fact that anarcho-punk is at last beginning to receive some long overdue recognition and re-examination is not the reflection of a change of heart amongst the writers of traditional punk history, but principally because the movement’s own alumni have begun to take up the challenge themselves. As different elements of this parallel account reach the shelves, the result is an increasingly rich anarchist-infused alter-history of punk.
This new wave of anarcho-punk publishing is part of a mini cultural retrospective on the movement’s work and worth. While there is absolutely no possibility of Crass following suit, a number of long-disbanded anarcho bands have recently reformed to play reunion gigs. Overground Records have released a four-part compilation CD collection, beginning with the spirited 23-track Anti-War collection in 2006. Further books are in the pipeline from AK Press; more releases from the audio archives are imminent; and the first of a number of new anarcho-punk documentaries have recently secured festival cinema screenings or direct-to-DVD release.
Two new books that revisit the experience of anarcho-punk together provide fascinating insights into the evolution and development of the movement. There is much to recommend in the insights of both works, even if neither can be expected to escape the constraint of having to satisfy the interests of the publishers of the pop music histories who contracted their authors.
George Berger’s The Story of Crass adopts the same straightforward chronological approach of his earlier biography of folk-punksters The Levellers, to document the history of anarcho-punk’s most conspicuous catalyst. Berger begins with a focus on the pre-punk creative activities of the founding members of the band and of Dial House, revealing some interesting and little known stories of the counter-cultural experiments that preceded the engagement with punk. Although Berger does not make the point explicitly, what this shows is how far outside the confines of the official anarchist movement Crass came from – something that is hugely significant in understanding anarcho-punk’s often fraught relationship with its more traditional anarchist allies in the years which followed. Berger writes entertainingly enough, although many readers are likely to find his frequent nod-and-wink asides to the reader quickly become irritating rather than endearing.
Securing interviews with all members of the Crass collective (save the reluctant guitarist Andy Palmer), Berger’s work is at its most successful in making space for the oral testimony of the group. Although not all voices get equal space, Berger allows former band members to describe in detail recollections many of which have never been articulated in the public domain before. Through these words, the sometimes strikingly different individual perspectives which existed behind the uniform, collective persona of Crass to find expression. These voices illuminate the key moments in the evolution, peak and subsequent fragmentation and decline of the original anarcho-punk explosion, as seen from the band’s unique perspective.
For context, Berger relies rather too heavily on the published Crass canon – the 1982 collection of essays A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Token Tantrums and the 1984 farewell statement In Which Crass Voluntarily Blown Their Own. Berger does try to identify some of the more important political controversies with which anarcho-punk became identified. Such debates included: the validity of an anarchist politics based on individual self-will; the utility of militant pacifism; and the means by which the alienated politics and practice of the Leninist far-left could best be challenged. The author deserves credit for getting such political questions aired in a music biography, even if the complex issues that these raise are left largely hanging as Berger’s attention turns instead to the next release in the Crass catalogue.
In Dance Before The Storm, Berger’s love for the music of The Levellers comes clearly across on almost every page. In The Story of Crass it is less consistently clear that Berger likes what he hears. In fact, there’s more of a sense that he considers the noise the band made is the stuff that you had to put up with to get access to the more valuable elements of the subculture itself. He dismisses the uncompromising late-period Yes Sir I Will LP and You’re Already Dead single pretty much out of hand and wishes that the earlier (and ultimately less ‘difficult’) Christ The Album had been the band’s final release.
As this suggests, Berger is not a deferential author and this is in no sense a Crass hagiography. He does have several axes to grind – and is particularly keen to rubbish what he sees as Crass’s ‘self-defeating’ hostility to the music press. For him, the decision to refuse to co-operate with the likes of Sounds and the NME in favour of an ‘over-romanticised’ fanzine network was sheer folly. In this, he suggests, Crass mistook self-imposed isolation for autonomy, and in the process made an ideology out of the DIY impulse. At moments like this, the conceptual and political gap between the author and his subject appears at its widest.
At the core of Berger’s narrative lies an unarticulated assumption that the ambitions of the anarcho-punk were so unattainable (and the punk vehicle for their realisation so completely inadequate), that Crass should have been willing to negotiate compromises the better to secure goals that were within the movement’s grasp. If, in the end, anarcho-punk has to be accepted as little more than an interesting musical distemper, such a view would appear as less than heretical. Those who rate anarcho-punk’s revolutionary merits higher than this will be disappointed that this first biography of Crass is so keen to suggest that, in refusing to compromise its autonomy, anarcho-punk was its own worst enemy. Despite these and other tendentious conclusions, Berger’s book remains an essential read for anyone interested in the headline history of anarchist punk.
An invaluable companion to the biography of Crass, is Ian Glasper’s The Day the Country Died the second in a trilogy of works documenting the history of British punk rock post-1979. Like its predecessor, Burning Britain, this volume offers a fanzine-inspired collection of interviews with the members of dozens of (in this case anarcho-) punk bands, grouped by regional scene. The inexplicable absence of Poison Girls notwithstanding, the oral testimony assembled here provides an often-lucid participant’s view of the work of the wider anarcho-punk milieu, which demonstrates just as tellingly the diversity as well as the commonality by which it was defined.
Although light on context and analysis, what the collection hints at throughout is the extent to which – within a militant anti-war, anti-work, ‘anti-system’ framework – the perception and priorities of the movement’s activists differed: something the movement’s critics (who were always keen to deride the uniformity of the ‘Crass punks’) rarely understood. Above all, even though Glasper’s attention is fixed firmly on the subculture’s musical output, The Day the Country Died cumulatively illustrates how simplistic the myth is which insists that Crass simply ‘led’ an anarcho-punk movement that dutifully ‘followed’ its directives. Incomplete as both these books might be, they serve as clear evidence that – not before time – a recuperative counter-history of punk is at last beginning to be written.
Review from Freedom 27 April 2007